Flu outbreak light - so far

By DEBBIE H. FLEMING Special to The State Journal Published:

Influenza, or flu, is an infectious respiratory illness that is spread between people usually by coughing or sneezing. The flu can be mild or serious and complications from it can even cause death. The 2005-06 seasonal flu outbreak has been relatively mild in Franklin County

Typically the flu season may start in early October and run into May and usually peaks mid season. The Franklin County Health Department (FCHD) has a program in place to monitor the number of confirmed and/or reported cases of flu in Franklin County. This report is submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by the Kentucky Department for Public Health. The CDC issues public health alerts based on the number of cases reported.

The Franklin County report shows that there was a peak in the number of cases in the last full week in February and the first week in March. Those numbers were still not very high. According to the CDC, the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu shot each fall. Part of this years low numbers may be due to the record number of people that were inoculated at various community flu shot clinics conducted by the FCHD.

In addition to flu shots there are other steps you can take to protect you and your family from both flu and colds. Frequent hand washing that is done correctly, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze and avoiding public places when you are ill are very effective ways to prevent the spread of viruses.

The possibility of a pandemic or world wide out break of flu is being studied by the scientific community. There have been three recorded pandemic outbreaks, one in 1918, one in 1957 and one in 1969. All three took enormous tolls on human life, but the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940s helped to lessen the impact of complications in some patients. A pandemic occurs when a new or mutated influenza virus develops. Since this virus is new to humans, no resistance has been built up and it can rapidly spread around the world.

One such virus may be the avian or bird flu, an influenza that usually only occurs in birds. This virus has spread to some humans who had direct contact with the infected birds. However it has not spread from human to human. Because avian bird flu is spread from wild birds to domestic birds, there is growing concern that the migratory patterns of wild birds will lead to the spread of the virus to many other countries including the United States. At this time there is no way to predict if this virus will mutate and cause an influenza pandemic.

World wide and national preparedness plans of response for dealing with such a possibility are being implemented. These plans deal with how to stop or slow the spread of such a virus, the development of a vaccine and the increased production of anti viral medications. As with any crisis, planning and preparation can help lessen the severity of the impact. The Community Health Education Team can assist you with developing your own action plan for your family.

Debbie Howes Fleming is the health education director with the Franklin County Health Department. For more information about column topics or to contact her or the FCHD Community Health Education team, call 564-5559.

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